Monthly Archives: November 2015

Best Tax Apps

Best Tax Apps

By | Tech, Tools, Gadgets and Apps | No Comments

Mint.com

Mint.com and the mobile Mint app are not tax apps per say, but instead are a solution for your overall financial life such as budgeting, investments, expenses, planning, etc. The best feature as it relates to taxes is the ability to categorize all your expenses.

This allows your accountant or you to identify possible deductions for business expenses such as a car, computer, supplies, or anything else related to your business and personal life that may be deductible. Rather than having to dig through 12 months of bank and credit card statements, with a few clicks you can pull up all your categorized expenses for the year.

Mint and its tracking of your entire financial life (if you let it) can also come in handy if you are the subject of an IRS audit. Knowing precise numbers for income and expenses, as well as the dates they occurred can make preparing for an audit and surviving one that much easier.

Quick Tax Reference by Bloomberg

This handy little tax app can help you as you prepare to file online or via the paper application. The best features are the reminders and simple explanations for things like estate tax, Alternative Minimum Tax, and capital gains. Also detailed are the timeframes for filing individual returns, extensions, business taxes, and other related schedules to ensure all your paperwork is in IRS hands when it should be.

My Pocket CPA

For a low $10 fee, my pocket CPA lets you ask a detailed question as it relates to taxes. This can be much more affordable than having to hire an accountant or lawyer. Combined with your general knowledge and a free online filing software, you can get an accurate and affordable tax return prepared. The app can provide information on simple questions, which can easily be found through a Google search. The best feature and main point of this app is for the more complicated questions you might have that only a qualified CPA can answer.

IRS2GO

The official app of the IRS is barebones. The main feature, however, is the ability to check the status of your tax return. With every year having more identify theft issues, many filers now have to go through additional verification steps to ensure that they are the “true” owner of their return. Processing times can also increase during peak times, so the ability to see what stage your return is in from a quick and simple app on your phone is a great peace of mind to have in your pocket.

Cloud Computing

How to get your company to adopt cloud computing

By | Research and Trends, Tech, Tools, Gadgets and Apps | No Comments

Most top companies already use cloud computing

If your company is reluctant to switch to cloud computing or other cloud services, perhaps a bit of credibility for those services is in order.  You can show your company that many top companies such as IBM, Google, Cisco, and other Fortune 500 companies are already using cloud computing and have been for some time.

Your company may not care or model their enterprise after these successful companies. Sometimes knowing that your investment or undertaking is not something brand new; but an idea proven in the marketplace to be effective can be comforting to a hesitant employer.

Emphasize the benefits

Cloud computing has a multitude of benefits that far outweigh the downsides or switching pains. These issues can be illustrated in many ways to help your effort in encouraging the company to switch to cloud computing. Work with other departments of your company to show how cloud computing can improve all areas of business.

Draw up graphs or charts to show costs savings. Get testimonials from IT about how security and their daily workflow would improve. Show how cloud computing can help the business scale; expand more efficiently and faster than thought possible.

Cloud computing can also improve company culture by facilitating greater communication via the cloud.  Cloud services allow employees to work on files at the same time and from virtually anywhere.  This increased collaboration can boost productivity, improve employee relationships, and strengthen your team, allowing them to tackle bigger projects with more speed and efficiency.

Improved workforce options

Cloud computing and related technologies further allow employees to work remotely from anywhere with the internet.  Make the case to your employer that this technology allows them to expand the pool of employees they can recruit or choose from, especially if they have had difficulty finding qualified candidates in the past.

This can help employers save on overhead costs, as well, as remote employees generally require less overhead such as food, equipment, and transportation incentives such as pretax parking or public transportation reimbursement programs.

The company will also require less IT resources and in-house personnel, as they can more easily manage cloud services with a limited staff. The company can rely on the personnel of the service providing the cloud solutions to handle certain IT tasks such as security or maintenance. This combination of lower overhead, combined with greater workforce talent, can help offset company fears about the costs of switching as well as resistance from staff or employees to the change.

Project Management

How to avoid going over budget on a project

By | Business Management and Leadership, Project Management | No Comments

Build a flex fund or contingency into the budget

A great budget that can last throughout the entire project and protect a company’s balance sheet is more than just estimating how much everything will cost.  No, it involves understanding the risk and realities of the project you are undertaking.  Be sure to have a portion of your budget allocated for contingencies or emergencies with undertaking the project.  This helps you stay on budget rather than having no backup plan and when unexpected expenses crop up, having to scramble to find the resources or shut the project down which wastes valuable time and money.

Ensure you have an amazing project manager/leader

The key to an efficient and smooth project is largely due to the manager or leader of the project.  This person’s job is to allocate the resources budgeted to the project properly, as well as motivates and organizes the staff to complete the project on schedule.  It is critical to ensure the project manager fully understands the scope of the project and ideally, has worked on or led a similar one before.  It is very difficult to complete a project or estimate its costs if you have never undertaken something similar. That unknown means a greater risk, which means the project is more likely to go over budget.

Organization and communication are key

Spending the first few days or weeks of a project, establishing a routine and system for organization and communication can seem like a waste of time on the surface. However, the more complicated the project, the more likely issues in these areas will arise.  Information and instructions passed along the chain can be misconstrued by different mid-level managers causing confusion in their subordinates.  Work completed which is not tracked and organized could be repeated unnecessarily–wasting time and money in the process.

A system, whether digitized or based on company hierarchy, can help keep your project on budget by increasing efficiency in all areas of the project.  Assumptions are a project’s worst enemy and can cause aspects of the project to have to be redone or changed after completion, which can ruin timelines and budgets in the process.

Establish a relationship with freelancers, outsourced help, and suppliers beforehand

Nothing can derail a project more than a key supplier not fulfilling an order or delivery as they previously expected. Even if they have a legitimate reason such as port delays or equipment repairs, projects often have a linear component that means they cannot move forward without certain aspects complete or in place.  If at all possible, you should work with suppliers, freelancers, and other outside the company, on small projects or one-off assignments before relying on them for a key component of a major project. This precaution will ensure that the vendor is reliable, indicating that you are a serious company and should be respected.  Mutual respect ensures the supplier follows through on their promise, on time, and assures the supplier they will be compensated for their efforts as you already have established your working relationship on previous projects.

Business Plan

Resources to help your write a business plan

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Understand your industry

If you plan to open an ecommerce store or a monthly wine service it can help your business and planning in many ways to start researching and studying the competition.  While you may not find a verbatim business plan that they made, either because they got lucky and didn’t make one or didn’t publish it to the public, your studying will help you capture all aspects of your industry without leaving a stone unturned.  The challenges, supplier issues, definition of target customer, headwinds, tailwinds–all these things become more apparent, clear, and will make writing your business plan much easier.

Once you know the challenges you are likely to face, your business plan can establish how you plan to tackle those and what resources you need to allocate to that task.  Of course, there will be a myriad of unexpected challenges along the way that you did not plan for, but your business plan could even address how you will respond to those in a general way.

Maybe your plan states you will use a line of credit or debt to handle situations like that or there is a lever on capital expenditures you can pull to reduce cash burn and shore up the balance sheet if an unforeseen event happens.

Look at templates or sample business plans

While every business plan will be different, utilizing a template or an existing plan as a reference can help you focus your plan to what really matters.  Often small business owners or budding entrepreneurs can romanticize or neglect certain areas of the business, such as less glamorous things like taxes or legal fees, to the detriment of their business.  While a business plan is a high-level view of your business as well as how it will operate, it is not uncommon for these plans to be tens of pages, often close to a hundred for very complex enterprises.

Don’t neglect the mission statement

Many businesses neglect their mission statement or hire it out to a freelance writer to produce in fancy, lofty language.  A mission statement is not an archaic concept that no longer applies to fast moving, bootstrapped technology startups, but is the foundation of your business identity and culture.

If you want to start a business in a saturated industry but plan to stand out because of x, then your mission statement should be focused around x.  There is a reason you think this venture is a good idea, and that is what the mission statement reflects.

That way, when looking back on your enterprise in the future or faced with a tough decision about the direction you should take; referring back to your mission statement can remind you of your original goals, intents, and help to refocus the company.

That is not to say a mission statement can’t be revised–it can and should, but a powerful, well thought out statement can do wonders for a company.  Johnson and Johnson has one of the best etched in stone at their headquarters, and as a result have become one of the most successful companies in the world.

A quick guide to pulling off Digital Marketing Integration

By | Entrepreneurship, Marketing | No Comments

Keep the marketing team cohesive

Often companies that are performing digital marketing such as Social Media, Targeted Ads, and other fancy techniques will have separate teams performing each function.  These teams do a great job but work in relative isolation, especially at larger companies.  A better way to obtain the marketing results you desire is to ensure these teams work together and that their efforts play off one another.  Data from social media and the types of people that interact or follow the company can be used to target ads to a better demographic or influence other areas of the overall marketing engine.
Integrate marketing in your product or service at every level

Marketing is not just something you should do to drive people to your website or product page.  Rather, it should be an important and integral part of everything you do.  With digital media marketing, the product or service can help market itself, sometimes achieving things for free that no paid marketing could ever accomplish.  A link at the end of your app, a flyer for your website or app included with every product shipped, or other traditional and digital combinations can pay off as well.  Leveraging both traditional and digital techniques to penetrate the marketplace and ensure your message is reaching your target customer is crucial to growing your brand and taking market share.

Email marketing is still king

Digital marketing can be overwhelming with all the choices a company can have on how to go about it.  From blogs and communities to product reviews and landing pages, the methods are endless and constantly evolving.  But, one method stands out above all others and has since the beginning– email marketing.  The best email marketing is one that is voluntary, that is, the customer has gone through a few steps and clicks to give you permission to market to them.

Why is this a more effective marketing system, because they are more likely to be engaged with your product or message.  A list of a thousand potential customers that only got on your list because they thought they were getting a free book are a lot less likely to buy something from you then those who voluntarily gave you their email or filled out a survey after purchasing from you.  This type of quality email list can also reduce the time you spend cleaning out and filtering the list and increase open rates and sales funnel success.

Email marketing is a long-term strategy whereas advertisements lose all effectiveness once they are no longer shown unless you pay to keep showing them.  A customer who doesn’t open or view your first few emails may eventually convert, for whatever reason, down the line.  They might have not seen your email, had it accidentally go to spam, or not trusted or been interested in your brand at the time.  Unless they unsubscribe altogether, you will always have the ability to enter their email box with your best shot and try to convince them.  Long-term marketing and repeat customers of the highest quality can be found through email marketing.  Remember what they say, ‘the money is in the list’.